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Sunday
May252014

Why Do I Still Read a Newspaper?!

There are special family rituals that arise organically. We assign little meaning to them, but when they are overlooked we feel their absence. One ritual that’s made a subtle appearance in our lives on Sunday mornings is the reading of a newspaper. 

 “Who reads the newspaper anymore?” someone asked me on Facebook a few weeks ago. I do! It’s not because I’m trying to be hipster by claiming throwbacks to the past as badges of cultural honor, either. It’s that the newspaper offers me a more palatable experience of the news. 

Online and televised media beat stories to death. They offer SO.MANY.DETAILS. I can no longer make my way to a concise perspective of events. I’m confused, overwhelmed and mostly irritated. I find myself susceptible to and unquestioning of the opinions of media icons I respect. Problem with that, of course, is that Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart support platforms or agendas that they’re bent on promoting and those agendas might not align with my values every single time. 

Produced with clickability in mind first, online news sources focus less on the dissemination of information and more on “shareworthiness.” In the end, between the online venue and television, I feel like I’m drowning in the deep end of a community swimming pool of apathy and intellectual complacency. The newspaper allows me to digest the information slowly, and it exists as the antithesis of sound bites and the palliative to flashy reporting. 

Every Sunday morning, we, while reading our respective sections of the paper, look up and offer each other  what I like to call one of our “what the eff” moments. That’s when you read the paper and you look up and say, “What the eff!”  Unless your children aren’t in the room, then you use the real word because it has way more impact. The what the eff moments consists of two crucial parts:

 

Part 1. Exclamation: You exclaim what the eff 

Part 2. Explanation: You explain what’s wrong with the world.  

 

You will never experience the full impact of a "what the eff" moment if you can't do both of these things. In fact, allow me to offer a very dramatic opinion to you: We have lost something fundamental as a society because we are no longer engaging in the part two of a “what the eff” moment. Part two is now prepared, prepackaged and offered to us like the goop inside a jar of baby food. Just like the baby eating food, we are covered in hot mess of slobber and confusion.

See, with televised media, you have the opportunity to exclaim “what eff,” but you will have your head filled with opinions by a barrage of experts who will show up within minutes of the reveal. They will tell you what you should be outraged about. They will explain why this is important to pay attention to but not that. They will tell you what is unimportant and irrelevant. You don’t get to decide.

You have lost your chance at part two and you have lost something essentially human: your free will to choose and explain how you feel about something on your own terms and in your own words. At the end of it all, you may drown in a pool of apathy. Perhaps you'll click over to the E! Channel and watch the Kardashians.

This will make you feel powerful because nobody tells you how to feel about Kim and Khloe’s latest disagreement. You are trusted with this task. You’ll form an opinion of your own. It will live as an opinion that’s about something relatively stupid, but it will be an opinion you made all by yourself and that you can explain thoroughly. 

Deep down, your opinion of Kim and Khloe lets you feel smart even if it's about something dumb. This makes you feel far more intelligent than the spoon feeding of opinions about relevant current events.

We’re all subconsciously programmed to think for ourselves. The producers of televised news media and online news media have forgotten this, but the producers of reality television have not. So. That’s why reading the paper is so cool.

This Sunday morning, we fell into the usual routine of digesting the week’s news. On page two, I came across this full page ad paid for by "Tennesseans for Preservation of Personal Privacy, Inc."  

It was *my* what the eff moment. 

 

 

Me: WHAT.THE.EFF.

You: ... ?

Tuesday
May202014

The Children Divorce My Brand and I Glimpse the Future

 

 

It’s a perfectly reasonable request, of course. I just wasn’t expecting this until much later. Four year old Yusuf cannot articulate why I must first seek his approval before posting. This indicates that he’s simply copying off of eight year old Nuha who is, in fact, being articulate about her objections. 

“You have a lot of friends on Facebook and Instagram. I should get to decide what photos of me they see.” Indeed, you should. 

You are a fully actualized human being, after all. You certainly have the right to decide how the world sees you and in which context the experiencing of you occurs. For eight years, you have existed online exclusively in the context of me. You have been my child here, and I must now formally and gracefully accept that you are ready to be perceived as more than that. Of course, you’ve always been more than my child — you’re a radiant light in the infinite energy of the universe and blah blah… The difference between right now and how it has always been, though, is that you now know that you are more than my child. 

That is seriously weirding me out because this is the beginning of many moments in which you will remind me that you do not belong to me. I welcome these moments, for they are as much my spiritual work as they are yours. I wonder if they will always elicit the same apologetic tone from me. Will I always go through the same pattern of experiencing regret over the fact that I didn’t preemptively give you that space followed immediately by the realization that your asking for the space is just as important as my giving it to you? Or is it going to be far less patterned and we’re just going to have to take this whole “I’m an actual person” thing one step at a time. 

I just realized with the Instagram/Facebook thing that this journey of my children’s discovery of their “self”is going to be a series of moments. Letting go isn’t going to be this one exam for which I’ll be awarded a passing or failing grade, but a collection of moments that I’ll most likely have to evaluate on a case by case basis as being somewhere between “reasonable” and “out of your damned mind.” It also occurs to me that there will be moments disguised as a genuine move towards freedom, but will, in fact, just be ill thought out grabs at the freedom to make really ridiculous choices with very serious consequences. 

Thursday
May152014

An Old Box of Photos #throwbackThursday

I have a box of old photos that goes back almost seventy years. They are all so intentionally… intentional. Today, the intention is to not look intentional.

Don’t want to look like I care too much about what you think. But want to look like I care. See me in a way that makes you feel like I’m not hiding anything from you, but do hide enough to be interesting. Feel like you know me, but don’t know me too well.

The dance of the twenty first century photo swims in the struggle to appear vulnerable without actually being too vulnerable.  For some, that’s also flavored with little specks of intention that seek to elicit envy, as well. Don't like the photo? Simply delete and snap again. Life is one big Mulligan in the digital photo age. 

I have a box of old photos that were taken without the knowledge of how they would turn out. Isn’t this the ultimate act of hope? Stand here! You over there! Click. Wait until the roll finishes. Drop off the film. Wait a week. Pay for the photos. Sit together as a family and look at them. Did it work? Are we believable? Do you think the world really thinks we’re the people we look like in this photo? Yes. The photo turned out nice. This is how we will remember who we are. 

I cannot bear to look at old photos anymore. Our story was not that story. The truth lived behind layers of grown up lies so complex that the grown ups didn’t know they were lies. In the sepia toned grains of the photo live subtle warnings to the children in the photos to never expose those lies. Don’t ruin the picture. All will be lost. These photos were the stories of people that stood where they were supposed to while someone clicked.

In the moments between the clicks and the moment in the living room when we all looked at them together lived the belief that we children would look at those photos years from now and forget those secrets. Didn't they know, though, that secrets are unforgettable because they are secrets. Secrets must be held close to the heart and this ensures their eternal life. As long as the heart beats, the secrets it holds will live. Illusions require the utmost attention and care to be maintained, too. You cannot forget a secret until it is revealed. You cannot recognize an illusion until you let it go.

Our secrets may not have been as dark as the secrets that others have kept, but they were secret enough to destroy the realization of any hopes that our illusions would prevail.

I have a box full of old photos.

Point. Click. Forget.

Faiqa, Age 6

 

Saturday
May102014

The Home Ownership Option

In August, we will have been living in this rented apartment for three years. Honestly, if we didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t consider a change necessary. I’m not a believer in home ownership. I believe in property ownership. I think people get confused about those two in terms of creating wealth, but let’s not talk about that — because boring, yo.

Anyway, we’re looking at houses. The last time we looked at houses, we were in Central Florida and it was 2001. Houses were sprouting out of the ground faster than kudzu on a new highway. We settled on a piece of property in a very nice part of Sanford and built a house from the ground up.

It was a beautiful house, but I’ll tell you something — our house lacked character.  It was a reflection of what others thought we should be and how we should live. I suppose that this was a reflection of who we were at twenty three years old, too. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I never really liked that house. It was a symbol of the attempts of others to tell me and my husband who we should be. I don't think either of us really ever felt at ease in it. Something always needed to be done to it. Something always reminding us that we just weren't quite good enough, yet.

Moving to Memphis and renting an apartment was amazing for us. The apartment is in downtown, it's beautiful and has gorgeous views of the Mississippi and Front Street. We love it here. But, we're done with this. We know who we are and ready to commit that knowledge into the manifestation of a physical space. I'm ready to live in a place that is not the reflection intended to tell others about who this family is, but a place that represents our values and our sense of self with the purpose of comforting and reinforcing our sense of us.

We’re looking for a house for our family. I reject the idea that children “need” space. In fact, the misappropriation of this word “need” is one of the major reasons for the world’s anxieties these days, I think. Children need food, love, shelter… they do not need a yard.

And yet.

I will tell you something about the house I grew up in. It was small and old. I think it was built in 1934? It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. My parents had another bathroom installed. It was always in disrepair. I never once heard someone say, “What a pretty house you have” when I was growing up. 

I remember my parents friends constantly judging them for purchasing this house when they could’ve bought one that was bigger and newer and in a better neighborhood. My parents bought that particular house for its location. It was a residential property that was going to be zoned commercially in the next few years. It was a purely financial decision. That was a good reflection of their values, I think.

As an eight year old girl, I loved that house for completely different reasons, though. It was small, but it was on over an acre of undeveloped land. There were towering  trees, honesuckle and vines. It held places where children’s secrets blossomed into imagination and joy. It was my refuge from a world where parents didn’t act like they were supposed to and the world didn’t treat you in quite the way you felt you should. It was my first experience of how freedom and inspiration are inextricably connected to one another. 

The things I experienced in that yard have made the parts of me that are most beautiful.

My brother and me playing in a twenty foot high waterfall of elephant ear vines, gnarled honesuckle leaves and large oak trees while pretending that a spooky someone who lived in the trees was coming to get us. Holding our breath as we hid under a bush, looking into each other's eyes and waiting for someone to whisper, "Go!" so we could run so fast back to the house. The rush of the cool air when we fell down on our backs and sighed the sigh of relief that we had finally gotten away from that scary thing we couldn't name.

Ninety five degrees on a June afternoon. "No, climb to that branch," I'm directing my brother and his friend. "Okay, now, shake it -- not too hard." And the old crepe myrtle in the driveway softly sheds tiny white flowers all over me. I close my eyes and feel the flowers fall on my head and whisp past my nose. I pretend it's snowing like the day it did in Chicago when I was born and my parents were young and new to this country and full of hopes about their lives and each other.

I remember walking through the mud patties we made on the front sidewalk, now slightly hardened but still not set. The dirt and gravel clinging to the sides of my feet and sliding in between my toes. The cool, soft grass pressing on the soles of my feet.  My treading toward the house without the knowledge that the touch of my skin on the earth created a connection between me and all the other people who were touching the earth at that moment with their bare skin.

My children should have that. They should have the dirt, the escape, the connectedness, and, most importantly, the privacy of childhood. They don’t need it, I guess, but I think they should have it. 

Throughout our lives, we make statements about what is necessary and what is "optional." 

These pronouncements of necessary tend to diminish the value of optional. Once, I thought that the way to live your life was to fill the bucket with that which is necessary and only add the optional things when you had enough time and room.

Now, I know that there will never be room or time left over. Everything must be considered — that which is a need and that which is optional. The optional is not gratuitous and if we treat it as such, we may find at the end of all things that we have merely eked out an existence --  not a life.

Beauty, play, private moments in the life of a child, the earth beneath their bare feet.

We don’t need a house. 

We just want one.

Thursday
Apr102014

Explaining Date Night

Date night is this Saturday. I don't know about your household, but we're terrible about being consistent with date night. I'd like to say that this is because we just love our children SO much that we can't bear to be away from them, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that once the weekend starts -- I don't feel like getting out of my pajamas before Monday morning. 

This Saturday, though, we are doing this date night!! It is going to be FUN! I will change out of my pajamas!!

Unless... is there somewhere we can go that encourages the wearing of pajamas? I would like to go to that place.

I spent most of last week in Connecticut and Tariq is in Vegas (for *work*, people) this week. We haven't really seen each other. So, the siren call of a weekend in pajamas will have to be ignored. 

I informed the children just now that Ms. M, their favorite babysitter, will be watching them on Saturday because we are going out.

"Why?"

"What do you mean why? So we can spend time together."

"No, but what are you going to do?"

"Go to dinner, I guess."

"Well, why?"

All the why questions, by the way, are from Nuha. My elementary Montessori training has resigned me to the fact that I'm going to get asked this question ad nauseum. So, usually, I just pretend not to hear her about three whys in. Suddenly, Yusuf chimes in,"You can eat dinner at home. Why do you have to go somewhere? Home food is more healthy anyway -- outside food is junk food."

Oh, my evil genius -- using my own logic against me. You are a brilliant boy. You're mine, after all.

"Well," I say with as a sarcastic smirk that always precedes some hyperbolic statement that's meant to have the children forget all the questions and laugh at their mom, "so we can get all romantical and stuff and stare in each others eyes and say, 'I love you' and then Daddy will say, 'No, I love YOU" and then we'll stare in each others eyes more and just tell each other we love each other over and over again."

My daughter rolls her eyes.

Yusuf, on the other hand, does not laugh. He looks at me very seriously.

"That's inappropriate. You're going to do all that stuff around other people. That's supposed to be private."

Maybe I should send him to Vegas.

Otherwise, I might have a mullah on my hands in a few years. "I am a very appropriate Spiderman." Photo by L. Anderson